What is Proprietary Software?

proprietary software

In today’s technologically dominated society, you probably use a computer every single day. With so much of our world now centering around digital interactions, access to a computer and wifi has become not a want, but a necessity. But have you ever stopped to think about the software running on your devices? We use software programs routinely. They help us to accomplish just about everything we do on computers. But have you ever wondered where these software programs come from? In the case of many devices, the software pre-installs before the customer accesses it. On most of these purchased devices, it is highly likely that you are running proprietary software.

But what is proprietary software? What are some advantages? What are some disadvantages? And what are examples?

In this article, we will answer all of these questions and more. Here is a guide to understanding proprietary software.

What is Proprietary Software?

Proprietary software, also known as closed-source software, is best defined as software that is privately owned. Either an individual person or company owns the intellectual property rights of the code that makes the software run. It serves as a near-polar opposite of open-source software. Where open-source software allows for editing, copying, and sharing of code, proprietary software does not. With it, users can not access, view, or edit the coding of software.

Furthermore, proprietary software requires a proper license to use. Any unlicensed usage of this is considered to be an illegal act of software piracy. Also, it has a limited number of users and various other conditions that must be met in order for legal usage. Along with these conditions, only the developer is allowed to edit, sell, or redistribute proprietary software.

What are Some Advantages? 

There are many benefits to proprietary software from a developer’s standpoint. For developers, proprietary software provides one of the only clear options for generating revenue. While many tech companies can generate profits through hardware sales, they run into issues once everyone already has their hardware in place. Licensed proprietary software presents another opportunity to generate revenue. For example, much of Microsoft’s success comes from its ability to sell Microsoft Office software along with hardware.

From a consumer standpoint, proprietary software can offer better security and support. While open-source software is great in theory, the ability for everyone to access and edit the code can lead to security risks. Because there is no profit to be gained, there is nobody actively monitoring the code to check for potential breaches or glitches. Furthermore, there is no active support system for open-source software. If you run into issues with open-source software code then there is nobody you can call for assistance or maintenance. Whereas proprietary software systems will almost always have established support lines and staff dedicated to maintaining the software.

What are Some Disadvantages?

From the perspective of a developer or company, there are almost no downsides to proprietary software as it offers a clear path to revenue. But for customers, there are definite downsides. One of the most controversial is the amount of power that it gives to the developing company in determining software lifespan. With proprietary software, there is often no good alternative option. This means that the developing company can decide how long they would like for the software to be effective, and can essentially force customers into purchasing upgrades.

For example, have you ever noticed that your old iPhone seems to slow down and rapidly deteriorate whenever they release a new device? This is an example of a developer manipulating software lifespan. Apple can decide to intentionally slow down its software to force consumers into upgrading to the newest device, and customers have no realistic alternative options. While there are other downsides to proprietary software, the power it gives to the developer is the biggest consumer disadvantage.


  • Microsoft Office – As aforementioned, Microsoft Office is one of the most widely-known examples. Almost all of Microsoft’s software ends up as licensed proprietary code.
  • IOS – Apple devices IOS software is also widely used. With billions of worldwide users, it is a massive source of revenue.
  • Antivirus Software – The vast majority of antivirus software is closed-source. Programs like Norton and Bitdefender are some of the most notable antivirus software programs.
  • Video Games – You may not realize it, but almost all paid video games are considered to be proprietary software. The code used to develop these video games generally ends up licensed and closed-source.


In summary, proprietary software means licensed software considered the intellectual property of a developer or company. Unlike open-source software, this type cannot be shared, edited, or viewed by anyone but the developer. Much of the software we see through Microsoft, Apple, and other companies, they consider proprietary. It provides a clear path to generating revenue for tech companies or developers. However, it also provides these developers with a level of control and power over consumers who rely on that software.

Hopefully, this article has helped to clarify what proprietary software is, as well as some of the benefits and downsides to relying on closed-source software.

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